The electric power generation sector uses approximately 41% of all freshwater withdrawn in the United States—more than any other water use sector. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) conducts research and development to help address challenges in electricity generation, delivery, and use, including water sustainability issues. On behalf of EPRI, LimnoTech conducted research to identify a set of impactful water stewardship metrics with specific relevance to the electric power industry. LimnoTech also developed a tool to help address potential water resource limitations for electric power generators.
The energy-water nexus is a widely used term that represents the inextricable connection between two critical resources: energy and water. Energy production requires large volumes of water, while water treatment and distribution depend on reliable, low-cost energy. Fossil fuel, nuclear, biomass, and solar thermal power generation rely on significant quantities of water for cooling and other plant processes. Hydropower operations require a stable, adequate supply of water to operate turbines. If water supply sustainability is in jeopardy, water-related risks can increase, and power plant operation and siting are greatly challenged. Many electric utilities are looking to use water stewardship metrics to identify risk, assess sustainability performance, and share their water sustainability “story” with stakeholders.
LimnoTech worked with EPRI and electric utilities to research factors contributing to water resource trends, and to evaluate implications and solutions for electric power generators. LimnoTech developed a tool called Water Prism to evaluate the potential benefits of multi-sector water-saving strategies. The tool considers regional hydrology characteristics, water demands of competing stakeholders, and community water-sharing strategies such as reuse, non‐traditional water sources, and advanced cooling technologies for power plants. LimnoTech is also developing a technical resource for using water stewardship metrics to navigating a broader sustainability process.
LimnoTech’s research has helped identify and quantify situations where water availability is a significant area of concern for power plant siting and operation. The work identified a need for better tools to assist decision-makers in understanding the potential benefits of water-saving technologies. Water Prism provides a roadmap to navigate potential pathways for meeting water demands with available water resources while utilizing various technologies and strategies to achieve water savings. Effective use of water stewardship metrics can lead to improved stakeholder communication, more informed goals for achieving water sustainability targets, and ultimately a reduction of water-related risk.